NAS Key West Editorial by Ralph Williams
Adjacent to the island of Key West, Florida, NAS Key West has a long history. Located at the end of the Florida Keys, it is a sought-after duty station and vacation location. The base lies close to the end of Highway U.S. 1, a three and a half-hour drive from the city of Miami.
NAS Key West is a premier East Coast facility for training tactical jet fighter pilots and is host to a busy port. The base and surrounding area’s history is rich. Supporting the maritime industry, Key West is the southernmost deep-water port in the Eastern U.S. Claimed by legendary naval officer Matthew C. Perry in 1822, the year Florida became a U.S. Territory, the area became important and wealthy during the later 1800s with its maritime trade and the business of salvaging the shipwrecks that often occurred in the area.
The base itself has origins dating back to early 1800s when a Navy base was established to fight piracy against the likes of famous pirates such as Captain Kidd and Blackbeard. The government began building Fort Zachary Taylor there in 1845, which remained in Union control for the entire Civil War despite Florida becoming a Confederate state. In the 1890s, the entire U.S. Atlantic Fleet was dispatched to Key West during the Spanish American War. The early 1900s brought industrialist Henry Flagler, a key developer of the Atlantic coast of Florida, who built the Florida East Coast Railway that linked the city of Key West to the mainland U.S.A., a distance of 128 miles. The Labor Day hurricane of 1935 destroyed much of the train tracks and forced the railroad line to go out of business. Using the remaining bridges and rail-bed, the Florida State Parks Department is developing it now into the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. Currently over 90 miles long, when finished this “rail-trail” will span 106 miles from Key Largo to Key West and allow hiking and biking separate from U.S. Highway 1.
Facilities and Quality of Life
With wonderful weather year long, Key West is a much sought-after travel and duty destination. NAS Key West is home to a large military command and thus has a full complement of facilities on base. These facilities include a commissary, an exchange, a 10-lane bowling alley, an auto skills center, a marina, fitness centers, several clubs, and an ITT office for discounted tickets to the local attractions. Key West, a major tourist destination, has a variety of attractions and things to do. Attractions include many museums and historical parks such as the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, the Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum, the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Museum, the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum, the Southernmost Point marker, Mallory Square with it’s spectacular sunsets and revelry, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, and visiting the bars and businesses along famous Duval Street. Also, by boat is the historic Fort Jefferson Dry Tortugas National Park where one can plan a day of activities.
Key West, Florida, is a destination I have visited before, it is a great trip. I visited Key West in the 1990s while on my honeymoon cruise. My favorite experiences were visiting the museums like the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum with all its descendant six toed cats that the author had as pets and the party vibe of Duval Street with famous establishments such as Sloppy Joe’s and the first ever Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The sunset atmosphere at Mallory Point was spectacular with hundreds of people enjoying not only the beautiful sunsets but also an abundance of vibrant street performers. It was the only place I have seen trained cats in a show! From my experiences as a visitor, it is a must-see location to visit at least once in a lifetime.
Key West is a major U.S. vacation destination with an abundance of civilian hotels in the area. For those wishing to stay on base there are several options. A Navy Lodge is on base, a short 1.5-mile distance from Key West International Airport (EYW). This Navy Lodge is considered by many a great value to stay at for a Key West vacation at an affordable rate. Because of its great value, reservations should be made as far out in advance as possible by calling the reservation number at 1-800-628-9466 (800-NAVY-INN) to check availability. The base also has a Navy Gateway Inns and Suites that is available for retirees and those on leave as space is available. For camping and RVs there are 93 RV sites with hookups and 500 dry and camping sites. Some of the sites are only open seasonally from mid-October through April. Because of their prime location, reservations for all accommodations for leisure travel may be difficult to make, so its best to plan ahead as far as possible.
Key West, Florida/ Summary of NAS Key West
NAS Key West and the city of Key West are at the end of the Florida Keys. A prime duty station and exclusive place to retire make Key West a great place to work and live. Because of limited land availability, real estate is at a premium price for those wishing to retire there. With housing costs prohibitive for many in retirement, many opt to only visit for vacation. NAS Key West and its affordable base accommodations can make a luxurious vacation out of reach before, a reality to remember your whole life.